Dressing Up: A Brief History of Pets and Costumes

According to the National Retail Federation, Americans spent around $440 million on pet costumes for Halloween this year. Pets in costumes (pumpkins are still the number one choice in 2017) were everywhere during the month of October.  Pets got dressed up and competed for the best costume at fundraisers, private parties, and pet-centered fall festivals.  All this pet masquerading raises an interesting question:  When did dressing pets become so popular?

Collars were the earliest pet costumes

Halloween aside, people have been dressing pets in one way or another since the time of Ancient Egypt.  Tomb findings reveal that some Egyptians outfitted  their dogs with ornate collars bearing the dog’s name.  Dog collars became prominent in Ancient Greece, where hunting or fighting dogs wore spiked collars. In the Middle Ages, royalty and other nobility displayed wealth in the form of decorative collars and leashes.  Often these dog accessories were adorned with gold and jewels. It is said that Louis XV dressed his Cavalier spaniel in a gold collar with diamonds.   During the Renaissance, pet owners had more dispensable income, and leather collars with tags or ornaments became common.  It was also during this time that dog ordinances were instituted. These new laws created a need for special identification or registration tags.  In the 19th century, bells on collars were fashionable.

Clothing and costumes for wealthy pets, 1800-2000

As smaller dog breeds became popular, pet owners began to use warm sweaters to keep their dogs cozy during winter weather.  Fashion houses in Paris began catered to the well-dressed pet during the 1800s.  In 1833, England’s Princess Victoria dressed her spaniel in a scarlet jacket and blue pants.

Dressing pets remained the purview of the well-heeled during the 20th century.  Ordinary pet owners were discouraged from dressing and pampering pets.  In 1915, the naturalist Alpheus Hyatt Verrill warned against “pampering, constant fondling, dressing up in clothing, and other ridiculous practices.”  Even so, vintage photos of animals in clothing from the early 1900s demonstrate that some people continued to clothe their pets.

21st century pets get costumes like their human families

Sometime around the turn of the millenium, something changed.  As pets began to be increasingly viewed as members of the family, they also began to take part in celebrations previously reserved for humans.  It was inevitable, perhaps, that more and more pets would begin to participate in Halloween.

The National Retail Federation of America began tracking US expenditures on Halloween costumes for pets in 2010.  At that time, Americans planned to spend about $210 million on pet costumes.  In 2015, Americans spent about $350 million on pet costumes.  That translates to about $1 for every $3 spent on kids’ costumes that year. The popularity of pet costumes continues to grow.

Learn more: Dog fashion history; History of dog collars

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